I was having lunch with a friend the other day, and somewhere around the time the check came she started making fun of my age. “Were you born in the ’70s, Kevin?” Why yes, I was. I owned an Atari 2600. I still own every console Nintendo has produced, including the original NES. I’m old school and proud.
That’s why when I first discovered MANOS – The Hands of Fate I became a bit giddy. Here it was, a console game in the vein of the original NES, but on my iPad and iPhone. How much better could it get? Let’s find out after the jump.
Apparently, MANOS is based on a movie, one I had never heard of prior to finding the game. IMDB puts the plot pretty simply: “A family gets lost on the road and stumbles upon a hidden, underground, devil-worshiping cult led by the fearsome Master and his servant Torgo.” OK, so the plot is a little sketchy.
You start out as a guy in Western attire, equipped with a six shooter and a whole lot of attitude. You have to shoot anything that moves (and some things that don’t) to progress further in the game. But you probably don’t care about the plot, because I know that wasn’t my central focus. I was more excited about how it looked.
Look & Feel
MANOS has a definite 8-bit feel to it, which brings me back to the old days. While playing, I could easily picture sitting cross legged on the floor of my parent’s living room, tapping away on a rectangular controller and staring at a CRT.
Even though it has Retina display graphics, it’s somewhat lost in the 8-bit flavor of the game — and that’s OK. Sure, I’d love to play a Western similar to Manos but with realistic graphics, but that’s not the point here. Instead, it’s about making sure that all of those pixels that normally disappear with a Retina display are clumped together into large chunks. It’s beautiful like a rusted 1949 Chevrolet 5-window pickup in a field.
Even though I’m not a huge fan of most on-screen control sets, this one works well. I never found myself grasping for buttons that didn’t exist or hunting around to make sure I was pushing the right direction. It all just works, although this is definitely one spot where the iPhone holds the advantage over the iPad. After all, the iPhone is shaped like a controller, and holding an iPad that way just feels clunky.
I can imagine pulling out a MANOS cartridge, blowing out the circuit board and popping it into my NES to play for a bit, and that’s just what the developers want you to think — just look at the icon, for crying out loud. It only has left and right arrows to move your character, plus an A and B button to jump and shoot (and they’re oriented like an NES controller, too — B, then A. Even doing those actions is just like it would be in the NES, as the bullets move slowly and your jumps have to be timed just right. In that aspect, it’s perfect.
But in another, it’s a glaring error. When I had my NES, there was no Save feature on most games. If you wanted to continue, you had to keep the console running and just turn off the TV, otherwise you risked losing your progress. MANOS functions the exact same way.
Why is this a problem? Because if it had iCloud support, I could start a game on my iPad and continue on my iPhone. Because if I could save a game, I could try to progress further. Because I don’t like playing the same level again and again and again. I know the developers see this as an advantage, but to me, it’s the biggest flaw in the app.
And About That Flaw
I debated for a long time about how the app should be rated. MANOS is a true NES experience on your iOS device, complete with all the pimples that come with it. The opening screen isn’t pretty. There aren’t 20 million colors to view. The controls can be tricky to master at first. Oh, and you can’t save. So that’s perfect, right?
It’s 2012. We all can look back with nostalgia on those old games and sigh, thinking happily about how flawed yet perfect they were. But we now have the advantage of knowing how to fix those problems. And not being able to save the game is such a rudimentary issue here that it drives me insane that I can’t do it. Why not at least give me the option to save if I want? I want to explore the world, not just play for 10-20 minutes at a time until I die. That sucks.
So is MANOS right for you? I love the graphics, the sounds and the overall feel of the game. Sure, there’s no plot really, but Super Mario Bros wasn’t exactly War and Peace, either. But man, that not saving thing really sucks.
As a result, this is one of those games that I recommend, but I put a little asterisk by the score. It’s worth $1.99, and it is a lot of fun to play (albeit more on the iPhone than the iPad, in my opinion). But you might get frustrated by the lack of progress in the game, which could lead to 8-bit burnout. I got there quickly, and I’m old school. How will you feel?